Cricket set to conquer Chinese hearts

Published: Wednesday, August 27, 2008, 6:34 [IST]
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Beijing: As China laps up the plaudits for its staging of the Beijing Olympics, some within the world's most populous nation are turning their attention to cricket.

Administrators in various sports have long regarded China as one of the great untapped markets and cricket is no exception.

Traditionalists, more comfortable with the concepts of a 'Chinaman' (a ball from a left-arm spinner which turns the opposite way from his normal delivery), or a 'Chinese cut (a false shot off the inside edge) than playing against a team of Chinese may be sceptical, but ignoring a population of 1.3 billion is not an option for cricket's rulers.

And having topped the overall medal table at an Olympic Games for the first time, the rest of the world ought to be aware of what China is capable of when it sets itself a sporting goal.

Anyone still doubting the seriousness of China's intent should be aware that the current secretary-general of the Chinese Cricket Association (CCA) was previously in charge of the equivalent snooker organisation.

"I have been involved in sports for a very long time, being a sports official," Liu Rongyao told AFP here in an interview.

"I used to be in charge of snooker. Later, after the Cricket Association was established, I got to know more and more about cricket and began to like it more and more, so I changed from snooker to cricket."

Snooker too is not a native Chinese sport but that didn't stop the then 18-year-old Ding Junhui from winning the 2005 UK Championship, the sport's second most important title.

Further proof of China's snooker progress came this year when Ding was joined at the world championships by compatriots Liu Chuang and Liang Wenbo.

China may still be some way off from making a similar impact upon cricket but David Morgan, the president of the International Cricket Council (ICC) says what the country has already achieved in the game is evidence of their commitment to the sport.

"I think that cricket in China is already moving ahead," he told AFP here.

"They have 140 Level One coaches and umpires now. They've achieved that in the period since 2005. That is indeed very noteworthy," the former chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board added.

"The ICC has believed for quite some time that there is a real opportunity for cricket in China and one of our projects is to explore the possibility of cricket becoming very large in this country."

Morgan's words echoed those of Ross Turner, Cricket Australia's global development manager.

"China has such a strategic approach to everything. They won't be benchmarking against some atoll in the Pacific," Turner told the Melbourne Age earlier this month. "They will be saying what is the world standard and trying to better it, seeking prominence and world recognition."

Liu, who met with Morgan while the Welshman was in Beijing to explore further the possibility of cricket becoming an Olympic sport, explained how the game, which was first taken around the world by means of the British Empire, had established itself in China.

"The ICC came to us and said they had a very charming game which could be introduced to China and at that time the then vice-president and secretary-general of the CCA paid a visit to Hong Kong to observe the Hong Kong International Sixes.

"We found that cricket is a very good for Chinese people because it emphasises hand-eye co-ordination," he told AFP.

And he added the 2010 Asian Games, which feature cricket and will be staged in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, would play a key role in helping expand the sport's popularity beyond the several thousand already playing Banqiu (the Mandarin for cricket) in China.

"Our long-term emphasis is on youth," Liu said. "Now what we need to do urgently is improve our high performance.

"With high-performance in the big events such as the Asian Games we can grab the attention of a mass of the people so it will then be easier to promote cricket. They will know it and they will love it."


Read more about: cricket, snooker, beijing olympics, china
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